The work in the Thinkering Lab is inspired by the strength of families. Families have so many strengths that support whole-child learning. Case in point: Storytelling.

Research from the last few years has shown how families benefit from sharing personal stories. From a New York Times article, “the single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative” (Feiler, 2013).

Can it really be that simple? It appears so.

Family stories have many benefits

Family stories . . .

  • Strengthen connection – Because stories make an impression on our hearts and minds, stories unite us, teach us, and add value to our collective lives.
  • Create family cohesion – Storytelling is a safe, healthy, bonding experience for families. The consistent practice of telling stories brings families together in meaningful and supportive ways.
  • Develop resiliency – Research indicates that teenagers in families who regularly talk about their family history have higher self-esteem, stronger self-concept, and better coping skills.
  • Build identity – As children began to learn about themselves with the context of a larger family, person identity is developed. This is important because strong identities lead to psychological well-being.
  • Pass down values and culture – Humans are connected through stories. Historically, elder members of the family share knowledge from one generation to the next, passing on cultural traditions and spiritual beliefs.
  • Support multiple perspectives – Stories can have many versions. Ask grown siblings to recall a shared memorable event from their childhood to see how different the details can be. This is an important understanding about narratives of all kinds. Who the author is matters.

Telling family stories to your children

Researchers Fivush and Duke developed a “Do you know?” scale used to determine how much children know about their family history. Below is a compilation of their topics, a good starting point for telling family stories.

Tell it!

  • When and where you met the child’s other parent.
  • Where and when the child’s grandparents grew up.
  • Your and grandparents’ marriages.
  • Birth stories – “The day you (the child) were born  . . .”
  • The source of names of family members.
  • Stories about shared physical or behavioral attributes between child and other family members – “You’ve always looked like your maternal grandmother. She had the same eyes  . . .”
  • Your and grandparents’ illnesses and injuries. (Kids love a good injury story!)
  • Lessons learned from your good/bad experiences.
  • School days – yours and grandparents’.
  • Jobs/occupations.

Making stories part of everyday life

Storytelling does not have to be a planned event. In fact, storytelling can easily be embedded in everyday life. Importantly, it costs nothing, doesn’t require a lot of time, and anyone can do it. Here are a few ways to get you started:

  • Use spontaneous times such as car rides, waiting for an appointment, a walk after dinner, or bedtime to sneak in a story.
  • Begin a Thanksgiving Day tradition of storytelling to show gratitude. “When we were kids, we spent every Thanksgiving at Auntie Gerri’s. She used to love to cook. She made the best tortillas. All the cousins used to play in the rec room. We listen to records and danced with each other. We had so much fun. I’m grateful for these childhood memories – laughing, eating, and being together with my family.”
  • Use family recipes as a spark for telling the story of a family member. “Great Uncle Julian makes the best green chile. He is funny sort. Did I ever tell you about the time he  . . .”
  • Enlist grandparents in telling stories. Intergenerational stories provide a window into the world of days gone by. A cassette tape? Rotary dial? Rolling down the car window by hand? Getting up from the couch to change the channel on the tv? Playing outside all day until the street lights came on?
  • Use pictures as a catalyst for family stories. Just pick up a photo and start telling your children the who, what, when, where, and why of it all.

Your family story is important. Share your stories with your kids. They’ll reap the benefits for a lifetime.

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